Scientists Say: Genus

This is a closely related group of species, and one of the parts of an organism’s two-part scientific name

a photo of a snow leopard hanging off of a tree branch

This is a snow leopard, one of the members of the genus Panthera. Its full scientific name is Panthera uncia.

Picture by Tambako the Jaguar/Moment/Getty Images Plus

Genus (noun, “GEE-nus,” plural, Genera, “GEN-er-ah”)

This is a word used in taxonomy for a group of closely related species. Taxonomy is the study of how organisms relate to each other. Genus is a very close relation — the species share a common ancestor that is relatively recent. Over time, groups of organisms in the genus adapted to slightly different ways of life. They formed different species.

For example, the genus Panthera is a group of closely related big cats. Lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars and snow leopards are all members of genus Panthera. They are not as closely related to smaller cats such as the jungle cat, sand cat and domestic cat. Those cats are in genus Felis. But they’re all cats. Both genera are in the family Felidae.

The genus is the first part of the two-part species naming system called “binomial nomenclature.” This is a formal system to name living things. Sometimes scientists call these names an organism’s “scientific name” or “Latin name.” Each two-part name includes the genus and the species. For example, humans aren’t just sapiens — that’s our species. Our full scientific name is Homo sapiens, which includes our genus Homo.

In a sentence

Once dismissed as just another Apatosaurus, scientists now argue that a large dinosaur deserves its own genusBrontosaurus.

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Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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